Issue 3/2016

Endless Present?


Endless present? What at first sight may appear nonsensical—for how should the Here and Now extend endlessly?—can be found with increasing frequency over the last few years as a diagnosis of our times. It generally suggests that we (in the rich West) have entered into a kind of history-free state where the prime issue at stake is defending what has been attained. Everything extending beyond that, such as an emancipatory awareness directed to a better future, is allegedly nothing but flights of fancy from the past that we should abandon as quickly as possible.
In this context, the idea of an unlimited Now is nurtured on several fronts. From the philosophy of history perspective, for example, there are claims that our reference system of past and future—once the driving force of any kind of historical consciousness—is increasingly evaporating in the face of an expanding present. “Always now”, or a final “Be here now!”, for decades the impetus propelling an ideology of change that would no longer deny reality–it has all been inverted into the precise opposite, a sense of being stranded with no alternative whatsoever.
Increasingly seamless integration into various media dispositives plays a pivotal part in this process. It is an experience encountered by everyone who is more or less intensively “connected” (and who is not nowadays?): being linked to an overflowing, constantly expanding infosphere grounded in global data storage—a kingdom of digital omnipresence in which everything is equally present and simultaneously equally ephemeral. If everything is readily available, the value and significance of whatever is available plummets dramatically. At least you would think so, in the light of the old laws of value. Considering various net-based economic cycles reveals that matters are not so straightforward: value increases endlessly in this context if something “goes viral” or is clicked on automatically. At the same time, the constancy and stability of this kind of millionfold “liked” content is often fragile and hollow, for the next “buzz” that will stir up even more attention is mostly just a click away. That is reason enough to look more closely at such paradoxes and contradictions, and at the contours of this seemingly endless, yet simultaneously highly impermanent and fragmented present. In this spirit, Karin Harrasser’s essay addresses the background and factors that have contributed to the emergence of the “long now” and to its dazzling charm.
Tracking down the residues of a reality-sensitive Self in the midst of the crammed-full present reminds her of Siegfried Krakauer’s idea of “radical boredom”. Perhaps that is what will allow us to experience or sense what will have made a difference in future.
Jeff Derksen also turns his attention to unconventional temporal concepts in his piece. He counters the idea of linear history, or history that has come to a standstill at a particular point along that line, with alternative, indeed thoroughly peculiar and non-simultaneous temporalities–means to react against the “chrononormativity” of the present, which also encompasses propagation of a dehistoricised end state. There is a greater emphasis on contemporary art and the way that it is purportedly marking time in the essays by Hans-Christian Dany, Joshua Simon und Süreyyya Evren. On a literary journey in the Nevada Desert, Hans-Christian Dany finds himself confronted with the conspiratorial idea that contemporary art was hijacked decades ago by the “School of Cologne”. A loud standstill or a silent victory—Dany weighs up both options in the midst of a fading sense of the present. Joshua Simon meanwhile calls for an art of “counter-speculation” as the only viable means to articulate a rejoinder to the culture of speculation that holds the present firmly in its grip. Süreyyya Evren takes the syndrome of “event-orientation” that has also swept its way through art and considers how it could be possible today to bring about a “de-eventisation” of culture that does not simply vanish into quietude or ephemerality, if indeed this is possible at all.
This palette of views is supplemented by a roundtable on practices with a political thrust, extending beyond the art field in the narrower sense of the term. Comparing the situation 20 years ago and today, the political and social implications are addressed, tinged with the notion of the end of history both then and now.
One of the key questions in this discussion (and indeed in the entire edition) is how to regain a sense of finitude and difference that could also be historically productive. How it is possible to counteract the seemingly endless present that reduces everything and everyone to exactly the same level, and to do so without simply adding another facet to the excessive plenitude of the present?